- Marcia Butler
- April 9, 2019
- Literary Fiction | 288pp
- Cloth 978-1-77168-154-4 $27.00
- Trade Paper 978-1-77168-155-5 $16.99
- Ebook 978-1-77168-156-8 $9.99
Marcia Butler’s debut novel, Pickle’s Progress, is a fierce, mordant New York story about the twisted path to love.
Over the course of five weeks, identical twin brothers, one wife, a dog, and a bereaved young woman collide with each other to comical and sometimes horrifying effect. Everything is questioned and tested as they jockey for position and try to maintain the status quo. Love is the poison, the antidote, the devil and, ultimately, the hero.
Twenty bridges connect the island of Manhattan to the rest of the world. Only one spans westward over the Hudson River and spills onto the lip of America’s heartland. Each year more than one hundred million vehicles make their way onto eight lanes on the upper level and six lanes on the lower level of the George Washington Bridge; travelling back and forth, surely in the name of a dollar, perhaps for some manner of love, maybe just for the view. And if cars and trucks aren’t enough, walkers, runners, cyclists, skateboarders, birdwatchers and jumpers alike can also enjoy the scenery from the pathway known as the ‘South Sidewalk.’
The eastbound on-ramp from Leonia, New Jersey offers a surprisingly short approach. Suddenly, as if from thin air, steel cables loom above, swinging like silver-spun jump ropes playing double-dutch over the cars. Massive and audacious, the bent cords ascend and seem to evaporate into a vaulted sky. On a misty night, the terra cotta buildings to the east, in Manhattan, appear as boxy smears of potter’s clay, notched out with squares of glass, reflecting an occasional headlight hitting the mark. Whether a reveler returning from a late-night party, or a sleepy trucker clocking a twelve-hour overtime shift, the George Washington Bridge suspends many disparate lives during the early hours of a Sunday morning.
Karen and Stan McArdle pulled onto the George Washington Bridge, headed toward the Upper West Side of Manhattan. It was just after three a.m. and they were cranky, probably because they were drunk. They’d stayed at the dinner party far too long and Karen had a few more cocktails than she’d needed, placing herself in that vulnerable corner where Stan could prick her with his epee of marital righteousness. That’s just how their relationship felt—sharp and sometimes dangerous; yet strangely alive as they explored those moments when one or the other might lunge forward and twist that bright, cold metal a tad, then deftly retract the sword. The trick was to know how far to penetrate the dagger and for how long it should linger, but not bleed out the heart.
The urban élan of Manhattan still appealed to Karen and Stan while most of their friends had left years before, joining the ranks of “Leonia-Teaneck-Hackensack-Weehawken-Hoboken” converts. For a long time, Saturday night yuppie dinners had been the way they’d all managed to stay in touch. Recently though, the gatherings had felt more like a gloomy obligation. Their friends, now annoyingly sober, continued to pop out one indulged and irritating child after another. This was not a lifestyle trend Karen and Stan subscribed to.
Some might have considered them to be ‘working’ alcoholics, though Karen preferred the term ‘highly functional’—certainly a few notches up from the category known as ‘pre-Twelve Stepper’. At least, that’s what she liked to believe. Labels didn’t matter at this moment though, because Karen and Stan itched and scratched as they approached the bridge and that inevitable descent down a mountain of alcohol into a gully called ‘hangover’.